Warning, this column is ripe with spoilers. Read at your own peril!
Summer Nightastic! has officially started at Walt Disney World and this summer promotion has had a lot of hype, press and push behind it from Disney. Since the Summer Nightastic! promotion was announced earlier this year, Disney has been slowly increasing the marketing machine to let everyone know that this summer is the summer to come to Walt Disney World (until perhaps next summer). For good reason, the Main Street Electrical Parade and other Magic Kingdom-centric changes are being promoted the most but what about Hollywood Studios? Let's jump in and find out how Summer Nightastic! ranks where showbiz is.
After the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios has the next largest contingent of Summer Nightastic! events to speak of. Chief among them is the changes at the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, where the attraction has received a special summer only makeover. I've gotten a chance to ride through these changes a number of times now at different times of the day and these changes are definitely geared more to guests who would call themselves Tower of Terror veterans. If you've never ridden Tower of Terror before, there's obviously nothing to compare this to and for you, it's just how the Tower of Terror is, but for those who know the ride pretty well, I think you'll find the changes here a nice change of pace. It isn't a completely new ride that totally changes how you look at it. Rather, it's a lot like one of those hard ticket parties at the Magic Kingdom; it's the same as before, with some aesthetic changes here and there.
Let's start with entering the attraction. Before you set foot on the Hollywood Tower Hotel grounds, if you come by at night, you'll see an eery glow coming from the Tower. This effect only is on at night and it's a nice touch. For Tower of Terror veterans, it's an opportunity to get some new photos of a building we've all photographed countless times. I like the glow effect, but given that it really doesn't get dark in Florida in the summer until about 8:30pm or so, you will have to wait a while to see it. The queue of the Tower of Terror is my favorite aspect of the ride and it's largely untouched. The outside queue, lobby and library are the same as you remember them but as you enter the boiler room, you'll notice some changes. Sooner or later, the lights start to flicker, dim and briefly go out, and then turn back on. I really found this to be a great effect and it makes the entire time in the boiler room far more creepy. The lighting effect helps set the mood that you are definitely "knee deep" in something wrong now.
Once you're on the ride, the big changes become apparent. First, you'll rise to the "ghost scene" and as the elevator doors open, a bright flash occurs. This is the first photo taken of you (more on that later). The rest of this scene is the same so we move to the 5th dimension scene and here is where the changes really take place. Remember all those weird props to the side of your elevator as you pass by them? Well, they're all gone now. The side area is covered up and you'll notice directly in front of you a life-size photo of, well, you! More to the point, your ride vehicle with you inside. This picture slowly disappears to reveal an empty ride vehicle. The 5th dimension opens and you move into it and the sound of music playing, perhaps from the Tip Top Club, can be heard before you start dropping. Imagineers instituted a new drop profile, which seems to include longer, fuller drops. Of all the times I rode, the fake video ending the illuminated dolls seem to be gone as well. In the finale, after you finish dropping, your photo is shown briefly before the final video is shown while your vehicle lurches away slowly.
I found the Tower of Terror changes to be interesting a nice change to what I was used to . Considering we've had the Tower4 drop profile since 2002, something different is welcome and I think they did a good job with it. Is it this awesome and amazing experience you have to come see? No, I don't think so. The Tower of Terror enhancements for Summer Nightastic are welcome changes, but nothing I'll really miss a whole lot once we regress back to Tower4 at the end of the summer. It's good, but not great; Memorable but not classic; Fun but not quintessential.
The other major Summer Nightastic! aspect to Hollywood Studios is the Rock 'n Glow Dance Party. Stop me if you've heard this before: a DJ mixes music while you and Disney characters dance the night away. Yea, it's nothing groundbreaking and they do something similar in the Magic Kingdom at the stage that was formerly for Stitch's Supersonic Celebration. If you have kids that love characters (or if you love the characters), don't miss this. Otherwise, you likely won't find much here aside from a song of two that you happen to like to hear.
Overall, I'm glad that Disney spent some time adding the Tower of Terror enhancements and even threw in the dance party, however, the changes here aren't going to convince many to book a trip to Walt Disney World just to see them. The return of the Main Street Electrical Parade is still the top draw, but I feel like Tower of Terror comes in second place with the glow party somewhere between extended hours at Animal Kingdom and the concert series in Epcot. If you're going to be at Hollywood Studios this summer, check out the Tower of Terror (preferably at night) to get a taste of how this attraction can be a little different.